How to Write a Paper Using Evernote

Building A Paper From the Ground Up

This guide will describe how to use Evernote to gather resources, notes, outlines and data in preparation for writing a research paper, and then how to use the collection of notes to write the paper itself.

Note: I’m using Evernote 5 for Mac, but the principles I describe here apply to earlier versions of Evernote, as well as Evernote for any other platform. Some mind-mapping or brainstorming actions might work better with an iPad, but they require other apps (Noteshelf, for instance), and in the end are just as effective with pen and paper. Incidentally, the iOS app was just updated (Nov 2012), and many of the actions I describe below (linking notes, especially) are now much easier than they used to be. I highly recommend updating to the latest version of both desktop and iOS apps.

Building A Paper From the Ground Up - by Greg Clinton

Create a New Project Notebook

To keep your project focused, create a fresh notebook and give it a working title, something like: Levels of Narration in “The Shadow Lines”.

Create a New Project Notebook

Use the Title to Stay Organized

Within your new notebook, create three notes: Bibliography, Draft, and Table of Contents.

  • Bibliography note is where you will store bibliographical entries, already formatted (grab these from EasyBib).
  • Table of Contents is where you can keep the list of sources, organized and hyperlinked.
  • Draft is where you’ll make your first attempts at actual writing. This note should stay empty for a while, as you gather evidence and fill in notes for outlines and thoughts.

Place a “! – ” before each title (see picture). When you sort alphabetically, the exclamation mark will stay at the top.

Note: Use “# – ” for sources (books or websites), and then use “* – ” for scraps of writing, ideas or outlines that aren’t ready to be part of the draft. In the picture, you’ll see the three main notes, followed by a series of notes corresponding to each source I plan to use.

Use the Title to Stay Organized


Use or your favorite citation engine to input a list of sources in this note. Do this as you collect sources, so you don’t have to do it at the end.

Tip: Don’t procrastinate this.

Table of Contents

One of the oft-forgotten functions of Evernote is the Note Link. You can use note links, which are unique hyperlinks, to create a kind of table of contents for your work and your notes. No matter how your notes are organized, or where they are in your Evernote, you always have a linked, organized outline of your sources. As you gather sources, put them in a new note, and add them to your Table of Contents. The next steps show you how to do this.

Table of Contents

Copy Note Link

For every note in your Evernote, you can generate a unique URL by right-clicking on the note and selecting “Copy Note Link”. This places the unique URL for that note in your clipboard.

Copy Note Link

Link to Text in Your Table of Contents

Select the text you want to link, and press Cmd-K (or Ctrl-K) to “Add A Link”. Paste the unique URL into the field and click “OK”. Now your text is linked directly to your note. Try it out.

Link to Text in Your Table of Contents

Source Notes – Quotes

Source notes are raw data for the construction of your argument.

What goes in a source note? Quotes and notes. Summarize the text you are using, and type out quotes that you intend to use as part of your paper. Record the page numbers as you go. You will have to type these quotes later anyway (if they are from a book), so typing them now isn’t a waste of effort. If your source is web-based, you can drop in copied text here.

Source Notes - Quotes

Starred Thoughts and Outlines

Sometimes you are inspired to write something short that isn’t quite part of your draft, and you aren’t sure will be useful yet. Put it into a new note with an asterix (* – ) before the title. This sorts it down below your main notes and your source notes.

Starred Thoughts and Outlines

Draft 1

At the point that you begin writing, you should have a notebook full of sources, thoughts and outlines. You will also have your brainstorming materials, if you’ve done this step. All the raw materials of your paper will be marshalled in your Evernote notebook, whether they were ideas sketched on a napkin at lunch or an annotated literature review. Your first draft will be as complete as you can make it – including citations, quotes, and as much coherence as you can muster.

Marking the Draft

If you want to mark the draft on paper:

Evernote does a fairly good job printing notes, so use the built-in print function (don’t go to the trouble of copying the text and pasting it somewhere else, unless you absolutely must print your work double-spaced or you have some special formatting requirements that Evernote doesn’t handle.

Once you’re finished marking the paper, scan it or photograph it with your mobile device (Evernote mobile apps have a handy crop feature for grabbing shots of documents). Add it to the notebook, give it a title: “! – Draft 1 marked”

If you want to mark the draft digitally:

From your laptop print your note as a PDF (the image below shows the PDF dialog in the Mac “Print” options), and then save it in an accessible location: Dropbox, an Evernote note, email. Grab it with an app like iAnnotate or Remarks, mark it up, and then export it back to Evernote. (On iOS, it is usually enough to “Open In…” –> Evernote. Some apps have special exporting features.)

As above, add the marked draft to the notebook, give it a title: “! – Draft 1 marked”

Whatever method you use, leave the original draft intact, and put revised drafts in new notes. Save your progress.

Marking the Draft

Re-Write, Re-Write, Re-Write

Draft #2, repeat, etc.

The Final Note

Name your final draft “! – Draft FINAL”. If you need to double-space the text and add any special formatting beyond bold or italics, including footnotes, copy the text into Word or Google Docs, and finalize the document. Make sure to save the formatted document by attaching it to the “Draft FINAL” note.

The Final Notebook

Create a new notebook stack called “Finished Writing” for all the finished projects.

Before you abandon the project to academic oblivion, place one last note in the project notebook that records any administrative information:

date submitted, course name, grade received, scanned copy of comments or of the graded work, copy of the assignment sheet, etc.

On the way…

If this is how you approach paper-writing in school or college, you’ll be well on your way to being a much stronger, better organized student and academic.

8 thoughts on “How to Write a Paper Using Evernote”

  1. Thanks for a wonderful post on using Evernote. I’m mentioning it in a Link Roundup post to be published Dec. 16th, 2013 on the Academic PKM blog, and plan to add it to one or more research guides on my library’s website. Do you plan to do any other posts on Academic Tools? I would like to know about them, if so.


    Mary A. Axford

  2. Thank you for posting such a detailed overview of how Evernote can be used to write papers. I really like this organization system and process. Can you please provide some commentary on how you brainstorm in this process? You mentioned it, but never really elaborated. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for reading, Brandon. For brainstorming, if I don’t use pen-and-paper to diagram or outline, I will use an iPad app that connects to Evernote directly such as Noteshelf. But with the ease of photographing paper-based diagrams and adding them to Evernote, Noteshelf has fallen out of use for me. The brainstorm notes would sit at the bottom of the pile, since once I use them I don’t really need to look at them again. But it can also be helpful to go back to your original inspiration in order to clarify the project or re-assess the trajectory of the argument.

      1. Good to know. Thanks for clarifying. Brainstorming on pen and paper is sometimes the fastest way to think through something.

  3. Thank you for your beautifully clear and practical guide. I use Zotero with Evernote and love the way the two can work together. I also use the ‘copy note link’ function to attach a direct link to an Evernote note (eg a web page) to a citation in Zotero. Just one question – what do you with any * – scraps of writing that didn’t make it to the final paper but may be useful for future work?

    1. Thanks for your comment! I also use Zotero – I was thinking about collecting some workflows together in a new guide about the possibilities for deep collaboration between the two applications. I’m still trying to determine the most efficient methods, so if you have any other specific suggestions, let me know. As for the scraps or drafts that are generated by this writing method… I have to admit, I think of this as an archive, and since Evernote hasn’t forced to me to consider deleting them, I just keep them. I keep everything. Why would I keep everything? (I’m thinking this through as I write, just now.) Possibilities: I can show someone else how I came to my final product – it is an archive of the process. I can revisit the process as a way of generating new ideas. There is the possibility that I placed a reference or a note in one of those early drafts, that subsequently was deleted from the final draft, but will pop up in an Evernote search, and can thus be the kernel of some new idea. In the unlikely event that I am ever accused of academic dishonesty (or if someone else dishonestly appropriates my work) I have documentation. But mostly, my original point holds: I don’t throw things away because I haven’t come across a good reason to. What do you end up doing with drafts and scraps?

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